The Need for, and Lack of, Web Content Managers

I must have worked on 50 websites. Maybe 100. Everything from small 5-page sites to massive corporate Intranets. While a lot of these sites had Content Management Systems, rarely was there a Content Manager.

What Do You Mean “Content Manager”?

Think of a newspaper’s editor-in-chief or a head librarian—someone responsible for what’s there and where it is. This doesn’t mean reading absolutely everything or being able to locate a bit of information instantly, but someone with overall editorial responsibility and control.

Put another way, a central authority who ensures the website functions as an information resource.

What Does a Content Manager Do?

The Content Manager makes sure the site provides useful information that can be easily found.  Specifically, the Content Manager would:

  • Have the authority to approve or reject content from going on a website in order to keep the site focused on its goals. New testimonial about the flagship product should get online ASAP. Photos from your Christmas party, no matter how much the HR manager thinks they show it’s a fun place to work, probably don’t belong.
  • Own and control the site’s Information Architecture to make sure information is grouped together according to what your site visitors expect. Having someone in overall control prevents information “ghettos” where each team has their corner of the site, but these corners don’t integrate or connect.
  • Establish a style guide and enforce its rules to achieve consistent formatting (e.g., in headlines, do you use Title Case Where the First Letters of Important Words Are Capitalized or do you just Capitalize the first letter of the first word?), common terms are spelled the same (e.g., “email” or “e-mail”?), and graphic elements receive the same treatment across the site (e.g., corporate blue is #0025EE).
  • Have input and control over communications-related interface issues, like when should call-out boxes be used or the appropriate instances to include photographs.
  • Promote writing for the Web best practices, including making training materials available and running (or arranging an expert to run) writing for the Web workshops. This knowledge is especially important for organizations that don’t have professional writers on staff. If you produce your own content, how you were taught to write in English class (introduction, build your arguments, draw a conclusion) doesn’t work on the Web and you need to know why and what to do.
  • Serve as a bridge between IT and content owners in ensuring pages are properly set up to be found by the site’s search engine and external search engines, including proper meta-tagging and picking the appropriate keywords.

Why Is This Necessary?

Ask Yourself: How many times have you:

  • Clicked through a site, convinced you’ve looked everywhere, then turned to the search engine and found that bit of info you needed someplace you didn’t know was there?
  • Or, used a site’s search engine and found pages and pages of press releases mentioning a topic, but no information about that topic?
  • Gone to your organization’s intranet and found a massive, bloated jumble of policies, mission statements, out-of-date contact lists and (my personal favorite) pages and pages of “For More Information” links, but very little useful information?
  • Encountered related pages, like two news releases, that look totally different?
  • Seen the same bit of information—contact person, product specs, a service description—in several places on a site, but they don’t say the same thing?

This all comes from poor editorial control.

A CMS makes it easy for anyone to publish anything to the Web. (The same is true of Web publishing teams who aren’t in the business of editorial control—they publish what they receive.) Now, content might be proofread, edited, fact-checked and approved, but all this means is each page has its own internal quality control but no one is keeping track of the overall site’s cohesion and consistency. A user, seeing conflicting information, inconsistent page layout or confusing navigation might start thinking that if you can’t keep your website in line, other things—like your products—might also have problems.

Like a store that doesn’t bother to sweep its floors, it sends a damaging message.

More To Come

My first draft of this post came in very, very long. I trimmed it back to what you’ve read, but I have a lot to say about Content Mangers and the work they do. So, I’ll be posting more detailed articles in the coming weeks about things that the Content Manager is responsible for, like style guides and information architecture, as well as what qualities and experience a good Content Manager should have.

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